Animal studies to evaluate the efficacy and safety of novel drugs are something we’re committed to reducing, wherever possible. As Vice President Drug Safety and Metabolism at AstraZeneca, I am interested by new opportunities to use predictive science technologies to find innovative ways to ensure patients safety. An example of this is our recent collaboration with the Wyss Institute at Harvard University, which has allowed us to integrate their “Organs-on-Chip” technology into drug development. Organs-on-Chip are self-contained units about the size of a memory stick that contain hollow microfluidic channels lined by living human cells. The human cells recreate the physiological functions of organs without using animal models.
More than ten Organs-on-Chip are currently under development, including a lung, liver, kidney, gut, skin, blood-brain barrier, and bone marrow-on-a-Chip. There is also a major effort to integrate these organ chips into “a virtual human body on-chips” that mimics whole body physiology. This will provide more predictive and useful measures of the efficacy and safety of potential new drugs in humans so that we can better understand how a medicine might ultimately impact patients.
There are other significant advantages to using this technology such as reductions in both the cost and the timelines of bringing a drug to market. Along with the cost benefits, the major downstream effects of the use of these Organs-on-Chips are improvements in patient safety and reductions in the need for animal testing.
Professor Don Ingber, Founding Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, is really excited about initiating studies that will validate the technology. Professor Ingber has recently been awarded the prestigious 3Rs Prize from the UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research for the development of the Lung-on-Chip.
The work underlying the concept of Organ on a Chip and this collaboration is very much in line with our commitment to the 3Rs of animal research. We see the use of the Organs-on-Chips as providing an innovative avenue to replace animal models in early drug testing.
This relationship marks another exciting collaboration between an academic centre of excellence and AstraZeneca. Organs-on-Chips are at the very forefront of bioengineering and I am personally excited by this collaboration. The use of Organs-on-Chips is an innovative, ground-breaking approach that will hopefully foster closer links between the Bioengineering experts at the Wyss Institute and AstraZeneca, whilst providing beneficial reductions in the need for animal testing.
In addition to AstraZeneca’s exploration of Organs-on-Chip systems, we are also investing in computational approaches and also state-of-the art screening systems based on human stem cells.
Together these new technologies are enhancing our efficiency and effectiveness in making translational safety predictions and reducing our requirement for in vivo studies.